Best Things To Do in Santa Monica
A trip to Santa Monica is all about relaxing outdoors. When you're not soaking up some sun on the 3 ½-mile beach, go for a bike ride along the... READ MORE
A trip to Santa Monica is all about relaxing outdoors. When you're not soaking up some sun on the 3 ½-mile beach, go for a bike ride along the Marvin Braude Beach Trail, set up a picnic in Palisades Park or enjoy a leisurely stroll through the open-air Third Street Promenade. If you're traveling with children, be sure to check out the city's most recognizable landmark: the Santa Monica Pier. Here, you'll find multiple family-friendly eateries, plus two of Santa Monica's most popular kids attractions – Pacific Park and the Heal the Bay Aquarium. You can even sign up for trapeze lessons at the pier, if you're feeling adventurous.
Updated September 24, 2020
- #1View all Photos#1 in Santa MonicaEntertainment and Nightlife, Beaches, Natural Wonders, Free, Neighborhood/Area, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDEntertainment and Nightlife, Beaches, Natural Wonders, Free, Neighborhood/Area, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Santa Monica's 3 ½ miles of shoreline, known as Santa Monica State Beach, are renowned as some of the area's best thanks to the soft sands, ideal weather and bevy of attractions. In addition to the gorgeous stretch of sand, the beach is home to unique amenities like the Original Muscle Beach (a 1930s-era beach park with retro gym equipment) and the International Chess Park. What's more, the beach offers traditional facilities, such as the North Beach Playground and the Annenberg Community Beach House. But perhaps the beach's best-known attraction is its famous pier.
Stretching from the intersection of Colorado Boulevard and Ocean Front Walk (the end of Route 66) to a spot above Santa Monica Bay, the Santa Monica Pier is the beach's most recognizable landmark. Not only will you see it in countless photos of the city, but you'll also catch a glimpse of it in several films, including "Forrest Gump." Some of its most popular amenities include a historic carousel, Heal the Bay Aquarium and Pacific Park, which boasts an assortment of arcade games, rides and food stalls.
- #2View all Photos#2 in Santa MonicaFree, Cafes, Neighborhood/Area, ShoppingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDFree, Cafes, Neighborhood/Area, ShoppingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
The Third Street Promenade, which stretches from Broadway (by Santa Monica Place) to Wilshire Boulevard, is a popular shopping destination that has an eclectic vibe similar to its Santa Monica locale. This open-air shopping mall is filled with major chain stores like Urban Outfitters and H&M, as well as more unique boutiques like Kenneth Karmiole, Bookseller Inc., a rare, by-appointment bookshop, and the toys-focused Puzzle Zoo. You'll also find that outdoor dining options – many of which use local ingredients – are plentiful. And if you're in the mood to cook your own meal, you can find fresh produce at the farmers market every Wednesday and Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Despite all of the tempting spending options, the promenade's atmosphere is the main draw for many recent travelers. Unexpected extras like the sculptured shrubs and talented street performers are particularly popular with visitors. Many said the pedestrian-friendly layout made it easy to navigate, though others wished there were fewer homeless residents in the area.
- #3View all Photos#3 in Santa MonicaFree, Sports, Recreation, ToursTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDFree, Sports, Recreation, ToursTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Santa Monica's abundance of trails and sublime weather year-round make it an excellent destination for cycling. In the heart of the city, you'll discover the Marvin Braude Beach Trail (or "The Strand," as it's called by locals), plus scenic thoroughfares like Main Street and San Vincente Boulevard that are bike-friendly. The city also sits just south of the Santa Monica Mountains, where additional trails are available for mountain biking. Electric bicycle tours can be arranged as well, if you want some insight about what you're seeing as you explore Santa Monica and nearby Venice Beach.
Previous visitors overwhelmingly recommended biking the 22-mile Marvin Braude Beach Trail, citing its phenomenal ocean vistas and well-maintained path as highlights. However, some say it can get a bit congested by the Santa Monica Pier, so consider venturing farther out – the trail starts at Will Rogers State Beach in LA's Pacific Palisades neighborhood and ends at Torrance County Beach in Torrance – for a more enjoyable experience. Reputable bike rental companies include Perry's Cafe and Beach Rentals and Sea Mist Rentals. For narration during your ride, reviewers suggested booking an electric bicycle tour with Pedal... or Not.
- #4View all PhotosfreePacific Park#4 in Santa MonicaAmusement Parks, Entertainment and Nightlife, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDAmusement Parks, Entertainment and Nightlife, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Whether you're traveling with children or craving an adrenaline rush, Pacific Park delivers. Located on the Santa Monica Pier, this ocean-facing amusement park is packed with arcade games and thrill rides. Like carnivals and fairs hosted annually across the country, Pacific Park offers a variety of classic games, including Whac-A-Mole, ring toss and water races. But the park's main draws are its 12 exhilarating rides. Soar above the pier on the world's only solar-powered Ferris wheel, swing back-and-forth on a sea dragon-themed ship, plummet 44 feet on a tower ride or go racing around the pier on the West Coast's only oceanfront steel roller coaster. When you're not enjoying the park's heart-pumping activities, buy a souvenir from a gift shop or grab a bite to eat from one of several quick service food stalls.
Many previous travelers loved visiting Pacific Park, citing its family-friendly atmosphere and superb setting as highlights. However, a few cautioned that park can feel crowded at times due to its small size and popularity. Others warned that the ride prices are high. Though you can pay for rides individually, several reviewers suggested buying the unlimited rides wristband for every member of your party so you can enjoy multiple rides more than once.
- #5View all PhotosfreePalisades Park#5 in Santa MonicaFree, Parks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDFree, Parks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
For beautiful views of Santa Monica Bay without rubbing elbows with hordes of tourists, walk a block back from the beach to Palisades Park. Situated within walking distance of central sights like the Santa Monica Pier and the Third Street Promenade, this narrow but long park – which is bordered by Ocean Avenue, the Pacific Coast Highway, Colorado Avenue and Adelaide Drive – offers plenty of postcard-worthy vistas. What's more, the 26.4-acre park is packed with amenities designed to help you relax while soaking up some sun. In addition to housing standard park facilities like picnic tables, benches and restrooms, you'll have access to a rose garden, pétanque courts and a space that hosts monthly art classes for adults. There's also a visitors center kiosk on-site, should you want additional information about things to see and do in the area.
When you're not taking pictures of the water, visitors say you should admire the park's gorgeous flora. You'll find all kinds of drought-tolerant species here, including agave plants and palm trees. Plus, Palisades Park features a gorgeous rose garden and interesting sculptures travelers highly recommend checking out. However, finding an empty park bench can be a challenge at times due to the park's popularity with the local homeless community, so consider heading to the northern end, which some say tends to be quieter.
- #6View all Photos#6 in Santa MonicaZoos and AquariumsTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDZoos and AquariumsTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
Tucked beneath the Santa Monica Pier, Heal the Bay Aquarium aims to educate locals and tourists about the aquatic creatures that live in Santa Monica Bay. At this small aquarium, you'll find exhibits for more than 100 local species, plus hands-on activities (think: touch tanks) and daily educational programs, such as animal feedings and discussions hosted by aquarium scientists. Some of the creatures you may see here include red octopuses, sea jellies, swell sharks and stingrays.
Past visitors praised the aquarium's informative staff and interesting displays, though a few said that the tanks could benefit from some cleaning and maintenance. Despite its small size, many enjoyed their visits, noting that the minimal entrance fee is well worth paying.
- #7View all Photos#7 in Santa MonicaFree, Cafes, ShoppingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDFree, Cafes, ShoppingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
If one of your favorite pastimes is shopping, then you'll want to check out Santa Monica Place. Situated next to the Third Street Promenade, another shopping mecca, this modern outdoor mall is filled with high-end boutiques. Some of the retailers available here include Coach, L'Occitane, Louis Vuitton, Nordstrom and Tiffany & Co. Additionally, Santa Monica Place houses a movie theater and a variety of eateries, ranging from casual grab-and-go staples like Sbarro to classic sit-down restaurants like Johnny Rockets and The Cheesecake Factory to local options like The Dudes' Brewing Company and the Sonoma Wine Garden. There's even a cooking school that hosts classes, chef demonstrations and cookbook signings, should you find yourself looking for a fun foodie experience.
Overall, recent visitors praised this mall's diverse selection of shops and restaurants, as well as its prime location and clean facilities. However, a few reviewers enjoyed the ambiance at the Third Street Promenade more, so if you only have time to visit one shopping destination, consider skipping this one.
- #8View all PhotosfreeTongva Park#8 in Santa MonicaFree, Parks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDFree, Parks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Like skinnier Palisades Park to the west, Tongva Park offers a welcome respite from Santa Monica's tourist-filled beach and shopping thoroughfare. In this 6-acre oasis, which is named after the region's Indigenous Tongva Indian Tribe, you'll find a mix of native and locally appropriate plants spread throughout four areas: Observation Hill, Discovery Hill, Garden Hill and Gathering Hill. Observation Hill beckons to those in search of phenomenal ocean panoramas. Discovery Hill draws families with its kids amenities, including a splash pad, a play area and a shaded picnic facility. Garden Hill impresses nature lovers with its stunning flora (think: colorful lilies, agaves in various shapes and tall pokers in fiery hues). And Gathering Hill draws culture hounds keen on attending a free concert at the amphitheater or checking out the park's unique Weather Field art installation.
Previous visitors loved Tongva Park's thoughtful design, central location, beautiful landscaping and excellent children's amenities. However, some felt uncomfortable with the number of homeless residents they saw here during their visits. If this is a concern to you, plan on visiting during the day; several past visitors said the park felt less safe at night.
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